Some standup comics edge hesitantly out of their comfort zone—a TV role here, maybe a movie cameo there. But Louie Anderson has flung himself cheerfully into so many different mediums, it’s staggering to survey: the Fox animated series Life with Louie, which won two Daytime Emmys. The live-action Louie Show on CBS. A three-year run hosting a revival of classic game show Family Feud. A standout role alongside John Candy and Eddie Murphy in 1988’s Coming to America. Reality show appearances, a slot in the 2006 World Series of Poker, a promotional turn as spokesperson for Land O’Lakes and, yes, more than a few cameos in The Jim Henson Hour, Scrubs, Grace Under Fire, Touched by an Angel and Chicago Hope.
Along with all of that, Anderson has written four books, filmed nearly 10 exclusive comedy specials, and received three Emmy nominations (and one win) for his role as Zach Galifianakis’ mother on FX series Baskets. Channeling his own mom Ora Zelle, who raised 11 children with grace while suffering under an abusive husband, Louie considers the role the ultimate culmination of his very personal brand of comedy. “There’s an open portal for all of us,” he told Vox in April. “I never think, ‘This is funny because I’m in a dress’ or ‘I look good as a woman.’ I think, ‘I look really good.’
FW: What’s the focus of your upcoming show, Louie? Are you still performing material from your book Hey Mom: Stories for My Mother, But You Can Read Them, Too, which informed your role as Christine on Baskets?
Louie Anderson: I hate to use the word “renaissance,” and I might be setting myself up for failure, but I’m putting together the best of old and new so that there’s a full experience. I don’t want people leaving my show without being really satisfied. When I go to a show, I want the hits. All the new songs are nice, but I want to hear the older songs that I fell in love with. I want to provide that to my audience. Does this all sound slightly insane?
Not at all! Especially for someone who's had such a long, diverse career.
I’m a standup comic first, everything else second. This is my 40th year doing what I love—Oct. 10, 1978 was my first show. I’m honoring the standup by going back through all my old specials, my most recent special, Big Underwear, and material I’m working on for a new special.
It’s impressive that you’re able to stay so busy, especially considering the personal nature of your comedy.
I update my past to a degree, without being cheap about it.
Was the writing process for Hey Mom drastically different than what you do for standup?
I love writing, and I especially love writing letters—they have a beginning, a middle and an end. I love the intent of a letter. It’s the original email. Emojis came out of our letters. When I wrote the letters in Hey Mom, comedy came out of that. But writing is much harder. It’s an animal all its own—and it’s all on you. It depends on the circumstances. In standup, [the circumstances] are all decided for you.
Do you feel that way about acting, too?
If you’re doing it honestly, standup is a naked approach. You give people a chance to see all of your nakedness. You can’t go out there with a shield up. I learned that from Richard Pryor. That’s how I approach the acting, too. In both mediums, you have to be honest with yourself. If something isn’t working, you have to bring it out in the open and fix it in front of people. Go, “Jeez, that was terrible, wasn’t it?”
Do you think more comedians who’ve been caught up in the #MeToo movement need to do something similar out in the open? I know you’ve worked with Louis C.K. in the past.
It’s too bad that, as human beings, we can’t go there. It isn’t in our nature to fix things, unless they break down. There’s outrage, loss and sadness around all of those situations. But what’s your question? Do you think we’re better off now? If people are willing to lay down all weapons, grudges and resentments, that’s the only way we can get anywhere in life. Look at my childhood: We lost so many great men—two Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. in no time. Now we’ve got Trump. People ask me, “Aren’t you worried about Trump?” And I go, “No.” They say, “What do you mean?” I say, “No, because of my dad. He once kept us up from midnight until 6 a.m. because somebody left the butter out.” I didn’t fold then, and I’m not going to fold now.
We may not see it as often, but that kind of stoicism is an important part of classic Midwest cheeriness, right?
This is life! We’re all just trying to live. Life is messy. I applaud my audience so much: They took the time, they spent the money, they made the plans, they got the babysitter, and they drove to see me. How lucky am I, after 40 years, to still have people show up? I get so emotional about it.
There’s the decency that longtime Louie fans love.
I don’t want to make anyone mad at me. I want everyone to like me. I’m a people-pleaser. I’m a standup comic!
Louie Anderson with Myke Herlihy 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27, Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, pvconcerthall.com, $41.50-$51.50